Blog Entries: 1 to 10 of 12
Jeanette Sheliga’s program in November titled, Above the Fold: Your Ancestors in the News, showed us how we can locate information about our ancestors by delving into the thousands of titles and millions of pages of newsprint available online today. She spoke about locating a tombstone for her McGinity family that listed the deaths of three young children all in the same year, 1877. What had happened to this family? She found her answer in a newspaper article that related a scarlet fever epidemic had claimed the children within days of each other. Without this article, their deaths would have remained a mystery.
Jeanette outlined her basic research steps for us:
1. State your objective or research question.
2. Determine where and when the event occurred.
3. Check out which newspapers are available within the research parameters, and
4. Don’t overlook non-online options such as libraries, historical societies and home sources.
Be sure to coordinate your search with other resources, such as censuses, old photographs, important celebrations, court and estate records, and maps to secure the best possible results.
Listening to Jeanette’s talk brought back a memory about my grandmother, Dody (Doerges) Weis’s siblings. Grandma Dody had three younger siblings: Robert, Fred, and Edward. Growing up, the Doerges clan was very close, all except the youngest brother, Edward. There seemed to have been an estrangement in the family, and I never met my granduncle Edward or his family. It wasn’t until my father, Walt Weis, read of his uncle’s death in The Union Democrat in June 1994 and realized that his uncle had been living in Sonora, California for the previous eight years, just ten miles from where his sister Dody was living in Twain Harte, California.
Dad explained that in 1947 Dody and her brother had feuded about his choice of spouse, and they had avoided each other ever since. The saddest lines in the obituary were, “He leaves no known survivors. No services have been planned.” In actuality, all three of his siblings were still alive in addition to numerous nieces, nephews and cousins.
After finding Edward’s obituary, I made it a point to locate as many obituaries as possible for my extended family. It is amazing what you can find in these snapshots of our ancestors lives. Since I am the family historian/recorder, it has fallen to me to write the obituaries for my immediate family. I wrote my mother’s in 1992, my grandmother’s in 1997, and my father’s in 2010. I will probably help my husband when the time comes to write his mother’s obituary.
In addition to locating obituaries, don’t overlook those interesting tidbits that make genealogical research so rich. I have found court notices about opposing sides in a estate dispute, as well as photographs and stories about famous fires in Los Angeles that both my grandfather and father fought as part of the Los Angeles Fire Department. I have clippings about my uncle when he ran for Sheriff in Arizona and his time as a singing cowboy for Universal Studios in the 1930s. My mother saved articles about my days as a swim team member at Los Angeles Valley College.
So much information is out there just waiting for us to find it. What have you found?
The October 21st presentation by our own Christine Cohen on those “Mysterious Codes” found on immigration manifests gave me just the nudge I needed to look for information on my oldest nephew’s maternal second great-grandparents, Jacob and Teresa (Kamershine) Halop. The reason I chose this couple was that they fell into the immigration and naturalization “sweet-spot” of arriving after 1891 and into New York’s Ellis Island, sailing from Liverpool after leaving their ancestral homeland of Tiraspol, Russia. Since none of my direct ancestors fit into the “sweet spot,” the Halop family was my best option.
Using Christine’s excellently researched handout as my guideline, I began my search on Ancestry.com and ran head-long into a dilemma – I couldn’t find the Halops on any immigration forms. I did find Jacob on not one but two Declaration of Intent applications, one in 1910 and another in 1920. On both, he listed his arrival date – 14 June 1906 from Liverpool on the S. S. Oceanic. I also located the family living in Brooklyn, Kings County, New York in the 1910 U.S. Census. Logically, they had to be somewhere in the immigration database. But, where were they?
Then I remembered that Christine said during her talk, “ticket agents can make mistakes.” Taking this approach, I searched through manifests for the Oceanic arriving in June 1906, and I found them listed as the Jaukob family. The ticket agent in Liverpool mistakenly listed the entire family under the father’s first name. Listed were his wife, Teresa, daughters Clara and Elizabeth, and son, Abraham. An additional clue was the name listed under the column heading: Whether going to join a relative or friend; and if so, what relative or friend, and his name and complete address. Their contact person was a B. Kamershine of 307 Bushwick Avenue, Brooklyn, New York – Benjamin Kamershine was Teresa’s brother.
Now that I had found them, the next step was to locate the various notations listed on the manifest. I took advantage of one of the references listed on Christine’s handout, https://www.jewishgen.org/infofiles/Manifests/ and it really helped. In the far left column of the manifest was the ridiculously small contract ticket number 18206 issued in Liverpool. Scanning further along the page I found 2X140738, 505, 5-22-24. These numbers gave me the district (2), the application number (140738), the verification form number for the INS (505), and the reference date. I next went to the Outbound Passenger Lists for UK & IRE on Ancestry, but became frustrated because searching for their names became a guessing game. I tried the original spelling of the family name, the mistaken family name and numerous variations on a theme. No luck as yet, but I’ll keep checking back.
One last fun item I found on the manifest was listed under the heading of who paid the passage. On Jacob’s line it said “self, $73,” on Teresa’s line it said “husband,” and on little seven-year old Elizabeth’s line it said, “father, $8.50.” I found that utterly delightful.
My next target of research will be my nephew’s maternal grandfather, Brian John McDermott from Ballymoney, County Antrim, Ireland who immigrated to New York in 1923. Let us know about your successes in researching your immigrant ancestors.
If you are looking for a new way to increase interest in your genealogical research among your family members, look no further than Google Earth. Tamara Hallo’s program about creating a visual presentation of our family history using a fun, free, powerful asset is right at our fingertips.
For anyone who is unfamiliar with Google Earth, it is a “geobrowser that accesses satellite, aerial, and street view images giving us a 3D representation of the world.” Simply put, it is a program we can download on to our computers that allows us to access the world in a new and exciting way to make custom projects to showcase our genealogy.
Tamara walked us through the steps needed to begin our genealogical projects utilizing this technological resource. If you haven’t done so already, you will need to download Google Chrome to your desktop or laptop computer (https://www.google.com/chrome/). If you don’t have a Gmail account, you will need to create one. Once these steps are completed, click on the Google Earth icon to begin your project. When a project is created, it is automatically saved to the cloud so it is easy to access, edit, and share. Tamara’s clear and understandable step-by-step process – detailed on her handout – encouraged our attendees to think of Google Earth as one more way to preserve our research and encourage younger generations to learn more about their family history.
What drew my attention to this method for preserving my family history was the ability to upload photos, documents, videos, and music to the project to complement the factual elements of my research. My first project will be to trace the migration pattern of my German second great-grandfather, Anton Weis, from Steinbach, Baden-Württemberg to St. Charles, Missouri in 1858, adding documents, photos, and descriptions to enhance the story of his life.
As an example of the interest shown in Tamara’s presentation, by the time I returned home after the WAGS meeting, my husband, Owen, had created his first Google Earth project with ten slides tracing the migration of his Swiss ancestors to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in the early 1700s. I hope that more of our members take advantage of this marvelous technology to create their own stories and share them with us at our December Show & Tell. Let Google Earth put the world into the palm of your hand.
We’ve all been there at one time or another. You know, searching over and over for that one record that will open up the floodgates and solve that genealogical mystery that has haunted us forever. We’ve tried everything to find our “missing link,” or have we? According to Mark Cross, there could be many reasons why we cannot find the records we seek. His talk, “How To Find Records When You Can’t Find Records” was informative, entertaining and brimming with work-arounds to help us in our quest for finding those elusive answers we seek.
Mark’s humorous tale of searching for one of his Cross ancestors and finding him indexed under the name Craps reminded us why our “reasonably exhaustive” searches can sometimes be just plain exhausting. This is where we need to expand our thinking about overcoming the errors in indexing and lost, unavailable, or non-existent records. Instead of narrowing our search parameters, we need to look to other repositories, indexes, books, libraries and archives. What if we still can’t find the record we need? Indirect records or DNA can be helpful.
According to the Board for Certification of Genealogists, “accuracy is fundamental to genealogical research. Without it, a family history would be fiction.” To avoid writing a fictional account or falling into the recurring brick wall backwater, Mark strongly recommended several important steps that we need to incorporate into our research. The first question we need to ask ourselves is, “How do I know my research is sound?” By applying the Genealogical Proof Standard we will be guaranteed that what we find and record will be sound.
One of Mark’s key recommendations was to keep a research log. This important tool can organize and track our research work, prevent needless repetition, or overlooking possible resources, and focus our efforts on our specific research plan. A good research log helps to show the quality of the research, lists what has and has not been found, organizes documents, and reduces duplication of effort. Always a good thing. In addition to a research log, he recommended keeping a timeline of the ancestor in question so as to avoid missing possible avenues of research.
I, for one, am convinced that it’s time for me to practice what Mark preached. I have downloaded the free research log from FamilySearch.org and will combine it with a timeline when I hit my next brick wall ancestor. How about you? Let us know if you found the proof you sought.
How many of us have read through old records on land transfers or instructions in wills where parcels are described in precise detail, including minutiae about neighbors, land formations, and distances, only to become cross-eyed from information overload? I know that in the past I would frequently begin skimming over sections that listed names, funny angles, and detailed descriptions of land parcels; not any more. Now I know that all those details could contain rich resources that I had overlooked.
According to Rebecca Whitman Koford, land research is not for the faint of heart. As a matter of fact, she told us that land research “isn’t fun . . . it’s tedious. But don’t give up, it will help to contextualize our ancestors’ lives, and it’s worth it!” To encourage us to tackle this subject, she told us the one thing that would grab any genealogist’s attention – land research can help solve those pesky brick walls where there are no other records available. Words to soothe a frustrated researcher for sure.
Before launching into land and deed records, we need to determine where our quest should begin. Are we looking for information in State-Land States, Federal-Land States, or Military Bounty Land? Each of these have different shapes and measurement systems, repositories, and unique histories. Rebecca recommended becoming familiar with the history of the state we are investigating so we won’t waste time looking in the wrong place for the information we’re seeking.
As the old saying goes, the devil is in the details. Careful attention to the details contained within land records may very well be the answer to long-standing mysteries in our family stories. Don’t forget that the “N” in FAN club stands for neighbor, and knowing who your ancestors’ neighbors were may well be the key to solving a longstanding puzzle. As we all know, genealogical research is not a “one and done” proposition, but a slow and methodical process. Adding land research as one more tool in our kit will only enhance and support our results.
Rebecca reminded us that land ownership was our ancestors’ greatest asset. When other avenues of research fail to locate the clues we need to answer our genealogical questions, the rich leads found in deed and land records may be our greatest asset.
Many of us have had an experience like that of our June speaker, Geraldine Knatz. We started researching an ancestor many years ago – before the digital age – writing away for information and visiting libraries and Family History Centers for clues, only to hit that proverbial brick wall. Time moves along, we focus our attention on other avenues of research and shelve the original mystery. Eventually, we refocus our efforts on that one burning question, “How do I find that elusive ancestor that challenged me so long ago?”
In Geraldine’s case, finding her elusive ancestor from forty years ago became her goal during the pandemic restrictions. First, she established her research question, “Who were the parents of her McCormack great-grandfather who immigrated from Ireland to New York in 1881?” She began by reviewing the evidence she had already acquired over the years with fresh eyes. Her list of resources included family letters that contained important clues that she had overlooked previously, as well as state and federal censuses, and naturalization and cemetery records. To these she added recently digitized baptism, birth, death, military, and marriage records. She was getting closer to her goal.
Geraldine’s next step was to begin investigating various Irish resources such as Griffith’s Valuation, viewing maps of Ireland, and visiting websites like RootsIreland.ie, IrishGenealogy.ie, and Ask About Ireland. Using maps and Irish church records, she began to narrow down the location where her ancestors used to live. Her newest weapon in her search was Blaine Bettinger’s shared centimorgan tool in DNA Painter. She called it the “icing on the cake.”
Although much of her evidence was indirect, she was able to back up her theory about the origins of her McCormack ancestors using all the tools at her disposal. The key to her successful search was looking closer for elusive clues in the existing documentation she had collected over the years and combining those with new evidence available today. Her research may never be completely finished because there will always be a new resource to find, but she is up for the challenge!
As evidenced by the number of attendees at our May meeting, it can be inferred that we all were quite interested in Julie Huffman’s DNA-adjacent topic, The Basics of GEDmatch. Julie explained that GEDmatch is a free website with a huge database that we can use to find new autosomal DNA (atDNA) matches. She encouraged us to view GEDmatch as one more valuable asset in our genealogical research toolkit.
One of the biggest advantages to using GEDmatch is that we can identify atDNA matches who have tested with different companies, such as 23andMe, Ancestry, FamilyTreeDNA, and MyHeritage, to name a few. GEDmatch is an equal opportunity DNA uploader, so no matter where you had your autosomal DNA tested, once you upload your results you become part of an enormous pool of possibilities. And, unlike many other websites, another advantage to using GEDmatch is that you can easily contact your matches because their emails are attached to their entries.
GEDmatch allows members to manage up to five accounts for free; beyond that you must enroll in Tier 1 for $15 a month. However, before you dip your toe into the atDNA pool, Julie recommended viewing the videos offered at GEDmatch prior to beginning your adventure in centimorgan searching. The videos, organized according to your level of experience at https://www.gedmatch.com/education/, will be very useful in getting started.
Identifying whether someone is a first cousin twice removed or a second cousin once removed is made easier with Blaine’s chart.
GEDmatch is a “do it yourself” website that can be a valuable resource when searching for that certain person who may be the answer to your brick wall questions. Let us know if GEDmatch has successfully helped you to fill in some blanks on your family tree or connected you to someone you never suspected was related to you. We want to hear about your results.
Happy Birthday WAGS!
Lisa Medina’s approach to genealogical research fit perfectly with the idea of how to formulate a successful family history project, especially when the focus is on producing an ancestral narrative. The subtitle of her presentation, “The Story of an American Woman,” aptly describes the goal of most genealogists, to not only record statistical facts and figures, but to write the story of their lives by adding context and humanity to the individuals and families we discover on our family trees.
Following her format, Lisa guided us through her research project as she looked for answers about the life of her great-great grandmother, Julia Hunt. Was everything she had been told about Julia life the truth or just family mythology? Lisa’s first step in answering her questions about Julia was to define the specific areas that needed clarifying beyond the basics of who, when, where, and what. She said that by rephrasing and broadening the focus of the inquiry to include why, how, and does the evidence fit and support the research case, the results would confirm or disprove prior research.
The next step was to develop a research plan to avoid overlooking valuable information when becoming distracted by unrelated – but attractive – rabbit-holes of misdirection. After defining our goals, determine what resources will most likely contain the information that we seek. Beyond the usual federal and state census records, check property records, city directories, will, probate, and tax records, newspapers and maps. Follow where the clues lead us, and create a timeline to include important historical events that may have affected the life of the subject. All of these valuable resources will aid us in staying on course and filling in the details of an ancestor’s life.
Lisa’s emphasized that the key to a successful research project is to analyze our findings with a keen eye to determine whether or not the evidence answers our original research questions. Check to make sure you have interpreted the information correctly and that if it conflicts with previous data, explain how you justified your conclusions. Finally, put everything you have found into a narrative and transform your initial research question from basic facts and figures into a family history to pass on to generations in the future.
Lisa Medina’s presentation reminded us that genealogical research doesn’t stop at facts and figures, but transforms us from ‘data crunchers’ into family historians.
How many times have you searched for a piece of documentary evidence for someone in your family tree and followed the breadcrumbs to more information that you never knew you needed? According to Kate Townsend’s presentation at our March meeting, that one record can lead you to another, and to another, and to another to help in filling in the blank spaces in the lives of our ancestors. The key is to “Follow the Records and See Where They Go!”
Kate walked us through the various records that may have additional clues that can be overlooked because we tend to focus on our original goal. For instance, many passenger lists have more than one page and if we fail to scroll to the final page we could miss vital information that could aid us in locating place of origin, destination, or relatives already in America. Don’t forget to search for both incoming and outgoing passenger lists, and don’t limit your search to common ports, but widen your search to other locations. Keep a timeline of your results so you won’t overlook anything.
On census lists, check to see if your ancestor was in process of becoming a citizen or had completed their naturalization process. These pieces of documentation can lead to new avenues of inquiry, such as original spelling of names, place of origin, names of witnesses (FAN Club), and the court district in which your ancestor resided. If possible, order an original copy of the final naturalization documentation to proudly frame in your home!
My favorite sections of Kate’s talk revolved around divorce proceedings, court cases, newspaper articles, death certificates, bankruptcy, and cemetery records. I would add wills to that list – and I know that makes me sound sort of ghoulish – but these are the records that have helped me the most in researching my ancestors. Sometimes these documents contain the only lead I can find to solve the mystery of the vanishing ancestor. I am still searching for the court records in the case of the contested disposition of my third great-grandmother’s estate after she committed suicide by hanging herself in her basement in 1874. I am anxious to find out the story that is hidden in those court documents.
Kate’s two final admonishments were to FIND THE ORIGINAL because relying on an index may contain transcribing errors that could lead you in the wrong direction, and GET CREATIVE by digging for non-traditional records such as coroner’s reports and court proceedings. Thanks Kate, for broadening our horizons genealogy-wise.
WAGS members, what records have you found beyond the norm? Let us know about your successes in your ancestor hunt.
Unless one descends exclusively from indigenous ancestry, it can be assumed that all of those forebears of ours came from somewhere else. Once those adventurous individuals landed on the eastern shores of America and discovered that there was open land extending to the west, curiosity, necessity, adventure, or other reasons pushed them to migrate into new areas. Hal Horrocks from the Orange County California Genealogical Society detailed the reasons, methods, and difficulties that our ancestors experienced while moving westward into Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and beyond.
Hal explained that some of the reasons our ancestors moved westward fell into a number of categories: adventure, over-population, religious and political freedom, unrest or discontent, the availability of land offering wealth and power, or just to have a fresh start. I know that in my family, my Quaker ancestors fled from England to Massachusetts, where they were persecuted by the Puritans. One branch, the Lippincotts, fled to Rhode Island – a more tolerant location – and then set up permanent residence in New Jersey where they could worship without fear. A few generations later their descendants were in Indiana and Ohio. My English Glover ancestors, also Quakers, settled in Pennsylvania, migrated to New Jersey, and over several generations moved to Illinois, Indiana, Kansas and eventually, to California.
After listening to Hal’s talk, I am curious to know how my Lippincott and Glover ancestors transported themselves, their goods, and their livestock to their new homes. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to pack up everything you owned, secure your family, including young children, and trek, raft, or wagon over miles and miles of rough land and uncharted water to reach a safe haven. It can be assumed that many Quaker families moved together, not only for safety from hostile native populations, but also for companionship and communion within their religious family. Now I need to explore which routes they used to reach their destinations.
Thanks to Hal, I will focus on early maps that show the rivers and trails that facilitated the flow of these brave men and women to find their new homes in their adopted country.